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First Femtocell Sold Direct to End Users

Gordon Kelly


HSL Makes First Directly Available Femtocell

LTE should make a great difference to our lives when it begins to roll-out next year, but for far too long many of us have suffered from poor 2G and 3G reception in the most critical of places: our homes. This could be about to end...

Today HSL has announced the first network neutral Femtocell to be made available directly to home users. The 'HSL 2.75G Femtocell' will cost £160 (the same the Vodafone Access Gateway) and connects directly to a user's broadband router to communicate to their mobile operator's own network across the Internet. This creates a cell of good quality coverage throughout the home (or office).

The result is strong voice, SMS, MMS and EDGE/3G data signals which should make life far more pleasurable. It may also hit BT/dedicated ISPs since the Femtocell should dramatically improve 3G dongle performance, meaning light users can scale back on the size (and therefore cost) of their broadband packages.

Naturally enough there is a catch in all this and it is one that is out of our hands. For a Femtocell to work correctly it needs to be approved by each network. HSL "has commenced pursuing agreements with operators in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Oceania", but we don't know how long it will take for individual networks to approve the device. Furthermore, they may want to play mean and only offer their own network locked solutions akin to the Vodafone Access Gateway.

That said, the demand for a so-called 'unlocked' femtocell would potentially be enormous for home and SOHO users alike. Consequently, we're hoping tremendous peer pressure like that which saw Apple approve the Spotify iPhone app will get the HSL 2.75G Femtocell approved quickly.

HSL has launched the website FemtoNow.com to keep users up to speed with network negotiations. Registration will also alert you know if/when the Femtocell is available for your own particular network.



Hamish Campbell

August 28, 2009, 6:03 pm

Hmmm sounds like a sly move to save money on new cell towers by the networks. Let users buy these, and utilise they're broadband connections to get coverage out to new areas.

Conspiracy I say!!


August 28, 2009, 6:52 pm

... or it lets coverage extend to areas where it wouldn't be econimically viable for the networks to cover. It's probably a bit of both.


August 28, 2009, 7:11 pm

Yeah, I ain't buyin' it. This should come free with your mobile if you live in a rural area as I do. My mobile HAS to be on the window sill for me to get a signal.


August 28, 2009, 7:13 pm

All sounds very awesome but I can't imagine for a minute that the mobile networks will allow it. Hence HSL trying to drum up the publicity.


August 28, 2009, 7:19 pm

@Ben: Er, why wouldn't they allow it? Surely it's all good news for the networks. Their coverage will be extended and they barely have to lift a finger.

Geoff Richards

August 28, 2009, 7:23 pm

Why exactly would they not "allow" it? It will potentially unlock a bunch more revenue for them by facilitating heavier use of handsets that otherwise are hamstrung by bad reception.

Bear in mind this is not some sort of cheapo VOIP routing solution, therefore dodging call costs on the normal mobile network. It is simply enabling a handset to connect to an operator's network via cabled Internet infrastructure, rather than wireless towers as normal.

I think it's sounds like a good solution for those with patchy coverage, as long as it doesn't impact broadband performance too much.


August 28, 2009, 7:30 pm

In fact, if I pay my own money for one of these and it's attached to my ADSL line (which I pay for) then I want a discount off any calls I make through it, thank you very much. Surely that's only fair :)

Not likely though.

Geoff Richards

August 28, 2009, 7:35 pm

You say that though, Chris, but once the call gets from your ISP to O2 / Vodafone / Orange etc, the rest of the work / cost is still there. So yes, you are saving them the cost of installing a tower next to your house, but not much else. So maybe only half the discount :)


August 28, 2009, 7:44 pm

I think this is a great idea :) where do I buy shares?! lol


August 28, 2009, 7:48 pm

The tech is leaving me behind - a new word, FEMTOCELL to remember, article left me dissapointed I was highly excited with the picture of a electronic tampon dispenser.

David Brophy

August 28, 2009, 8:51 pm

Does this handle incoming calls too?


August 28, 2009, 10:11 pm

@ David Brophy - yes, it simply improves reception by creating your own mini cell for your home or office. There is full call/data/text functionality.

Geoff Richards

August 28, 2009, 10:11 pm

A femtocell just extends a network's coverage (over IP, as it happens) and everything else should function as normal ie the phone doesn't know any different. Voice, SMS, MMS, data... all the same as if you were outside with "real" reception :)


August 28, 2009, 10:11 pm

Hah, double response!


August 28, 2009, 10:14 pm

Is it 'locked' to your own mobile(s), or would neighbours benefit from your investment (and bandwidth)?!


August 28, 2009, 10:38 pm

@Beaky69: Good question, I was just wondering that. You'd think it wouldn't be too hard for the thing to store a list of permitted IMEI or SIM card numbers, much like wireless routers can keep a permitted MAC address list.


August 29, 2009, 12:25 am

I think if you use Vodafone's own branded unit you need to register up to 4 mobiles with them and they get enabled for your own Femtocell. I guess otherwise all your neighbours would hang off it too.


August 29, 2009, 2:35 am

Been waiting for this! have to move house every year and once again find myself living with absolutely NO reception. Hurry up and launch... Cornwall needs you.


August 29, 2009, 3:09 pm

Presumably there's the potential for added latency if the system uses a broadband connection? Hope it doesn't end up like a satellite phone conversation in use...

@Caedmon: If you're moving fairly frequently & living to rural areas, might you have difficulty getting broadband access too?


August 29, 2009, 5:02 pm

"should dramatically improve 3G dongle performance, meaning light users can scale back on the size (and therefore cost) of their broadband packages."

The data still goes over your Broadband connection so how would this work?

However the thought of perfect signal for voice is much more attractive to me than using VoIP, especially as most of my calls are incoming. I'll get one as soon as Orange support it.


August 29, 2009, 5:21 pm

@OldTimer - Because they won't need their 8Mbit/16Mbit etc packages, 2Mbit should be fine. It's not about data, it's about speed.

It's an exciting sector and while the argument is signal quality is entirely in the responsibility of the networks in reality a perfect signal everywhere is impossible and it is nice to be able to put some control back in your own hands.

Martin Daler

August 29, 2009, 11:46 pm

@ Geoff Richards - I would doubt this will unlock any revenue for the mobile networks. I don't see this device appealing to people on PAYG. People who use their mobile any amount tend to be on a contract, so they have paid for their usage whether they make the calls or not. I suppose they might garner a little extra incoming call revenue - isn't that where the whole rip-off mobile call cost derives from - but mostly they will just enable contract users to wring more value from their existing spend.


August 30, 2009, 2:15 am

@Beaky69 Broadband seems less of an issue... although it's seldom faster than 1.5Mbit so lets hope the "Femtocell" doesn't need too much bandwidth!

On that point, have they specified a minimum connection speed?

Geoff Richards

August 30, 2009, 3:28 am

@Martin - that's a fair point actually. Of course, additional coverage might encourage heavier use, resulting in them upgrading their contract to more minutes / more cost... :)

@Caedmon - I don't believe there has been any mention of minimum speed. For voice calls, one could suppose whatever Skype uses would be a good starting point (64kbit minimum, from what I could uncover). However, don't forget this box supports up to 7 simultaneous calls, so it all adds up in an office environment.

If we get a sample for review, I'm sure all will be revealed.


August 30, 2009, 4:30 am

The mobile operators love to control as much of what happens with their customers as possible. I'm not sure why they'd let a third party sell devices that 'extend' their networks when they could make more money, and supposedly guarantee a certain level of service, by providing the kit themselves.

Don't get me wrong, I want a femtocell that I can set up for O2 or whatever and this kit looks good, but the MNOs are so protective over their networks that I think getting agreements for this will be, well, difficult.

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